Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Historic Scotland’s – Inventory of Historic Battlefields

Bruce's Field viewed from Barra Hill


Historic Scotland has identified the Battle of Barra as worthy of inclusion in their list of battlefield sites, considered to be of national importance.
Follow this link for detailed information on process and the purpose of the current inventory.

The consultation and report on the Battle of Barra have been completed,

and details can be found, at the following link:
The report gives an outline of the battle and related history, as well as maps showing the boundaries of the site, suggested deployment of the opposing armies, and the location of points of interest.
The aim of the reports is to raise awareness of these important sites, so please visit the Historic Scotland site.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Comyns 3

Following the successful suppression of the 1211 MacWilliam rebellion, the Comyns continued to expand their influence and land holdings. William Earl of Buchan, played an increasingly important part on the national scene, 
witnessing charters from places as widespread as the north of England, and Fyvie, in his own heartland. He also played a key role in the coronation of Alexander II at Scone, in 1214 following the death of his father.  Although the Comyns held lands throughout Scotland and England, William began to consolidate their power in the North East, and under his patronage Deer Abbey was founded in 1219.

The Abbey of Deer *

This consolidation an expansion continued in a relatively peaceful fashion until 1229 when another MacWilliam rebellion erupted out of Moray.
Alexander II, having failed to suppress the rebellion in person, again appointed William, the Warden of Moray, with the authority and resources to “get the job done”. The Comyns duly complied, and the heads of Gulleasbuig and his sons were delivered to the King, who in gratitude conferred the Lordship of Badenoch on William’s son Walter.  The royal “enforcers” now directly controlled a swath of land across the breadth of northern Scotland, in the shape of the Lordships of Lochaber, Badenoch, and the Earldom of Buchan. This effectively stabilized the north for the crown and ended the MacWilliam threat for good.
So as another generation prepared to “assume the mantel”, they had the benefit of the huge support structure, created by Richard and William, based on, landholding, ties of marriage, and a large following of allied families, all of which made-up the formidable Comyn Party. 

Source: Alan Young (The Comyns)

But things would not always go smoothly, because there were other “new men”, who also wanted a share of the Scottish pie. 

* For exact location of Deer Abbey follow this Geograph link:

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sir Thomas – The Final Word

Having devoted so much blog time to the good Sir Thomas, I was thinking, “enough is enough”, he does after all appear to be no more than a colourful local legend. But! - Although I would probably never know whom, the effigies represented, I was still intrigued as to their date. During my research I came across an excellent book by Rachel Ann Dressler, called, “Of Armor and Men in Medieval England”, in which she studies three specific early 14c English knight effigies.
Rachel is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Albany, NY.
I decided to ask if she would give an opinion on the figures, and e-mailed her a link to the blog and some pictures, which she was kind enough to review and her reply is below.

Dear Jim,
Having looked at the photo, I would venture that the effigies date certainly after mid-13c but before 1315. Since the figures are abraded it is a little difficult to tell, but my inclination is early fourteenth century. I hope this helps.
So, it appears that the figures are close in time to the battle, and certainly concurrent with the period of sporadic internecine warfare from Alexander’s death until the Scottish victory at Bannockburn. Of coarse this did not end the violence, but it was more focused in the border regions after 1314.
We now have the tantalizing possibility that the effigy really does represents one of the fallen of Barra, but, could just as easily represent a minor noble who died in his bed. One of the points to emerge from Dressler’s book is that the martial splendor of the effigy did not always accurately reflect the life of the man it commemorated. They were often in fact no more than “sculptural spin”.
The last paragraph on the dust cover explains:
“Ultimately, Dressler’s analysis of English knight effigies demonstrates that the masculine warrior during the late Middle Ages was frequently a constructed ideal rather than a lived experience.”
With that said I think it is time to finally lay Sir Thomas to rest.

RIP - Sir Thomas and Lady de Longueville

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Battle of Barra Blog Wordle

Since I have had such a long break from the blog, I felt I needed to go over and review all the previous posts. I also have just discovered the Wordle application, which can be found at:
The following is the description form the site:
“Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text.”

So what I did was enter in most of the text, from the fifty postings and this was the result.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Bruce Statue

It has been a longtime since I posted, but I do really need to get going, and bring the Barra saga to a conclusion.
So! Inspired by Juliet’s website creations; here goes.
There has not been a great deal that has happened in the long break, but significantly, Aberdeen has finally unveiled its statue to commemorate the city's connection to the hero King.
I am just back from a short trip to Scotland and had the opportunity to visit the statue, which, was unveiled on the 6th of May in front of a refurbished Marischal College.
I will not attempt to describe the statue, because Aberdeen City Council, and STV have done a great job in presenting the details, which can be viewed on the links below.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Comyns 2

Last year I promised future post(s) covering the Comyn family, their rise to pre-eminence, prior to their rapid eclipse by Robert I.
Well here we go.
First I would like to draw attention to an excellent book, by Alan Young,
which was published in 1997, “Robert the Bruce’s Rivals: The Comyns, 1212 – 1314”,
As previously discussed in this blog the Comyns have over the years received an extremely bad press and Alan Young set out to redress this balance and as he states in the conclusion of the first chapter;
“A Comyn perspective is necessary to test the Bruce –oriented version of thirteenth-century Scottish history and the Comyns’ traditional role in it as traitorous rivals to Robert Bruce”.
However one reviewer did remark that; even a book dedicated to the Comyn family history could not escape the shadow of Robert the Bruce in the title.
Prior to this book it was necessary to trawl through numerous books, papers and articles, for the average person to get a perception of the Comyns, and even then it tended to be less than flattering.

Some histories maintain that a Robert de Comines, who came over with William the conqueror in 1066 and was awarded lands in Northumbria for his services, was the founder of the Scottish dynasty. The name may derive from the area of Comines, in the French/Belgian border area. Other sources say the name is derived from the herb cumin, and that, this was the origin of the three sheaves on the coat of arm. The real origin may be a combination of both or none.

Alan Young believes that the Comyns were not of a “noble” family like the Bruces, but that their origins were as humble clerks, from the Bayeux or Rouen areas.
Like many of the new aristocracy of Scotland the Comyns arrived in the train of David I during the 1120s. William Cumin was David’s chancellor, and appears to have obtained advancement for his nephew Richard, prior to returning to England to pursue his ecclesiastical ambitions. Richard had lands in the north of England and was granted lands in southern Scotland by David; he also obtained further land by marriage to Hextilda. (Who was the granddaughter of Donald Bane, giving the Comyns their first claim to the Scottish throne). Throughout his life Richard’s importance to the Scottish crown grew, and the evidence indicates that he was a close advisor of David and his son Earl Henry, as well as Malcolm IV and William, increasing his land holding and being appointed justicair of Lothian in the 1170s.
So by the time of his death in 1179 he was a very important man whose families’ future was inextricably linked to the fortunes of the House of Canmore.
Richard was succeeded by his son William who continued his good work.
William consolidated and expanded the family land holdings in southern Scotland, and continued to be a close adviser of King William, he witnessed numerous Royal charters and participated in diplomatic missions, particularly in relation to the sometimes difficult relations with England. William was sheriff of Forfar by the end of the 12th century, and was appointed to the senior justiscairship of Scotia (Scotland north of the Forth) in 1205.
This was probably and effort on behalf of King William to enforce royal authority in the north, which had been difficult and unruly throughout the Canmore era.
William did not have long to wait for trouble, and 1211 saw a Mac William uprising, lead by Guthred, to press the claims of the House of Moray to the crown. At the head of a large royal army William with the support other northern lord suppressed the rebellion and captured Guthred. The King then came north to consolidate the victory and take hostages as a guarantee of future good behavior.
Following this success William, who appears to have been acting in the temporary role of warden of Moray, was rewarded with an influential marriage to Marjory the heiress to the earldom of Buchan. He therefore became the first “Norman” earl, by several decades, and moved the Comyns in to the first rank of Scottish nobility. This was truly a symbiotic arrangement, because whilst the Comyns attained their dynastic advancement, the crown acquired an “enforcer”, who was now ideally placed and willing to deal with any further disturbances to the Kings peace in the north.
This was Williams second marriage, it is not known who his first wife was, but the offspring of that marriage would found the line of Badenoch, and the offspring of his marriage to Marjory would be earls of Buchan.
As Alan Young states;

“ By 1212 the Comyns had real power – the Comyn century had begun!”

Monday, August 3, 2009

Robert the Bruce

I am currently working on a post(s), about the Comyn’s, but it requires quite a bit more work.
Some of you may be wondering what there is to say, about the “losers”, that takes so long, but I believe there are several important aspects of the history of the Comyns, which help explain the actions of Robert, after the battle of Barra. Also they deserve to have their side of the story told.

I do not intend to do the same for Robert the Bruce, he has been well served by biographers, and his life and adventures are told in countless volumes. I will however offer this list of my favourites.

Firstly are the two “classics”, one medieval the other modern:

“The Bruce” - by John Barbour. (The one I have used during my work on this blog is the Canongate Classics 1997 edition edited and translated by A.A.M. Duncan). There are also a number of versions available in various formats online.

“Robert Bruce & the community of the Realm of Scotland” – By G.W.S.Barrow ( Edinburgh University Press 1988 edition)

“Robert the Bruce” - by Ronald McNair Scott (Canongate 1988)

“Robert the Bruce” – by Caroline Bingham (Constable 1998. This book was completed just before her death )

“On the trail of Robert the Bruce” – by David R. Ross (Luath Press 1999 This is the tale of David’s personal journey on the trail of Robert the Bruce – he did have a motor bike [David that is])

For those who may find the histories a little dry there is always Nigel Tranter’s “Bruce trilogy”. Whilst generally historically accurate, it is also a “ripping yarn”, of daring-do, as Robert and his lieutenants win Scotland’s freedom, “which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”.

I would like to close by quoting from the forepiece of Caroline Bingham’s book

“His faults were of his time, his virtues were all his own”